How tough is tough love?

A popular celebrity recently shared on their personal social media account a tale of punishing their child by asking him get out of the house. The celebrity posted it possibly out of jest but sadly resulted in receiving the wrath of Netizens everywhere condemning his form of punishment as a form of child abuse. There were also many who supported the form of punishment as ‘tough love’, a concept used to justify actions taken on children as a way to groom them into better people.

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

These are some of the comments left regarding the post which I have taken the liberty to insert without naming any names:

“Not good to treat children like this. We all want to be treated with respect and dignity. Children understand this too and expects it.”

“That’s very harsh. My husband did that to my son once only and I felt so horrible.”

“I kasian you son but I agreed with uh wife and I will do almost the same.”

“My dad threw me out of the house a lot times. But now, I’m very discipline, focus and always follow rules. Sometimes, disciplining needs to be the hard way for their better future.”

So what exactly is ‘tough love’ and is it still relevant in grooming children into proper adults? Growing up in an Asian household means that most of us were used to the concept of getting punished by your parents. Usually the punishment involves a non-physical punishment like doing squats with your hands holding your ears or even getting locked in the bathroom. Physical punishments on the other hand usually involves a cane, hangar, belt and pretty much any household item your parents can get their hands on to deliver their form of love through the sensory of pain. Even the good ol’ hand is sufficient in most occasions when a suitable weapon cannot be found. Reading about it here probably suddenly hits you on the actual abuse we faced as children although we didn’t realize it as we were probably desensitized to it. So what changed?

Due to the globalization and the import of media from the Western World, the idea of raising a child ‘Asian style’ has been put under scrutiny as the Western parenting style seems less barbaric for a child’s growth. Studies have also backed Western parenting methods as being less traumatizing for a child when compared to the Asian method. Given that academics concur with the Western style, it must mean it produces better children right?

Punishing a child regardless of whether physical force is used, is a form of negative reinforcement. Basically by punishing your child, you make them associate their action (which a parents seeks to change) with a negative emotion. Pain is perhaps a powerful negative reinforcement, but even scolding or sending them to their rooms too are forms of negative reinforcement with different degrees to it. This is of course in polar opposite to positive reinforcement that seeks to reward a child for an action (which a parent wants to keep) by associating their action with a positive emotion, this can include physical affection, giving presents or any form of reward that brings out positive emotions.

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

It would seem that modern day parenting has been restricted to positive reinforcement only when it comes to disciplining a child. The general idea in modern day parenting is to explain to the child what he/she did wrong and expect the child to process the explanation in order to mold his/her behaviour based on the explanation. It is certainly a noble pursuit and perhaps it does work, but the world needs to start grasping the concept that no child is born the same. Perhaps in a privileged world, modern parenting is able to efficiently mold a child. What society misses out on is that positive reinforcement requires some form of reward to make it work. Which means that rewarding a child as a form of parenting only works well, IF you have the ability to reward. Even if an argument is made out that the quality of reward doesn’t matter as it is the positive association that we are aiming for, from a child’s perspective it would not appear the same way. Imagine seeing your peers receiving different arrays of toys and games as a reward but instead you only receive a simple dinner as your own reward, this would still also traumatize a child who is unable to process the concept of inequality. In fact this may even lead to the propagation of an ideal in which everyone deserves to be rewarded simply for doing the right thing. Sadly this isn’t the world we’re living in.

On the other hand, what are the limits of negative reinforcement? Besides physical pain, are every other form of negative reinforcements valid? The answer is probably a no as seen with the post from the celebrity, where he had merely asked the child to get out of the house and yet he was still condemned for alleged ‘child abuse’. What then is an acceptable form of negative reinforcement that is suitable to be used on children? Should religion be allowed to be taught to our children? Religion indoctrination can be seen as a form of emotional manipulation where a parent traumatizes a child with the concept of heaven and the fear of hell in order for them to do certain religious obligations or rituals. I would think that religious indoctrination is actually worse as a form of negative reinforcement to a child when compared to pain. But perhaps we are all not ready to have this conversation yet.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The more ideal form of parenting is to incorporate both negative and positive reinforcement in disciplining your child. Most importantly is to remember that all children are different and even within the same family, a suitable method used on the eldest may not be suitable for the youngest. The job of a parent is to understand the unique values each child brings to the table and to only discipline a child for wrongful behaviour with a method that works for that child.

Kage is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
Register at to become one of our content writers now!

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Author: Kage

Hoping to entertain someone with my thoughts.